2019 Dakar winner Toby Price talks winning races and losing bets (and hair)

Copyright: © KTM Images

Last month Team KTM claimed an 18th straight Dakar Rally victory, courtesy of Australia’s Toby Price. The 2018 Rally World Champion was locked in a neck and neck battle with Husqvarna’s Pablo Quintanilla until the final 100km of the world’s toughest desert race.

Price, a proud Australian, battled through 10 gruelling stages with a broken wrist, making his second Dakar win overall, his most impressive.

A couple of days after the dust had settled, KTM interviewed their champion rider covering subjects like race strategy, his KTM 450 RALLY, the team chemistry and how he lost a bet resulting in him chopping off his famous locks.

The below interview first appeared on KTM’s official blog.

Toby, the first goal of the Dakar Rally is always to simply finish, especially when carrying an injury. What did you really hope for when you arrived in Peru before the event?

“I’m a racer and racers will always want to win the race. I have to be honest though, when I boarded the plane in Australia, I was starting to think that it wasn’t a good idea – I knew my wrist hadn’t healed fully but I wanted to at least make the start if only for my fans’ and the team’s sake. As the event went on, things started to turn our way, my wrist didn’t get any better but we found ourselves in a good position with some of the other riders having issues. Each day presented a good opportunity and there was no way I was going to give it up.”

This year’s event was very close, with competitor’s stage times up and down throughout the rally. Do you think the 2019 Dakar has been one of the toughest yet, in terms of strategy?

“Definitely, and it comes from having the majority of the stages in the sand dunes. The guy who starts first is always going to be at a massive disadvantage by opening the stage. As it happened, I didn’t even win a stage until the very last one. Riding consistently paid off and I didn’t have to take the lead on any of the specials. One of my biggest worries was pushing too hard and risking a crash. I knew if I went down hard on my wrist it would be the end of my rally. Unfortunately, I did have quite a big off on day eight – it rattled me pretty good that one, but luckily I was able to roll out of it and keep going.”

The 2019 event was often more about start position and being able to push the tracks left by the riders in front. Do you think the rally should slow its pace and rely more on skilled navigation than it did this year?

“It’s quite a difficult situation because everyone has picked up their pace, but they’ve also improved their navigation. We are all pushing out there as the competition is getting tighter and tighter and unless they bring in some new rules to calm things down, I don’t think that is going to change. The sport has evolved now and the riders are often younger and more willing to risk everything for the win. That, combined with the improvement to the bikes, means the overall pace is a lot higher now. As long as there are riders willing to push to the maximum, the speeds on the rally will remain high and in order to compete, we have to do the same.”

At only 10 days long and just over 5,000 kilometers, the race covered half the distance of last year’s event. Did this help you achieve your goal?

“Massively! Although a 5,000-kilometer rally here in the dunes of Peru feels like an 8,000-kilometer rally anywhere else. The terrain and the conditions have been tough and it certainly wasn’t easy out there. The length at only 10 day has probably helped the most, the way I was riding, it’s unlikely my wrist would have put up with another three or four days flat out. They do say one kilometer in the dunes is about that same as two or three offroad.”

At what point in the rally did you think, ‘I can win this’?

“Basically, the same place as my first win a few years ago – about 100 meters from the finish line. You can never count your chickens before they hatch, the Dakar is a strong beast and it can pull you down very quickly. You only have to look at Pablo to see how fast things can change. Each day I just tried to stay in the race and in contention and was able to get it done.”

You were always consistent throughout the race, was that part of the plan from day one or was your hand forced by injury or strategy?

“It was a bit of both. I knew from the beginning that my wrist wasn’t going to be strong enough for outright speed on a lot of the stages. My plan was to find a good rhythm and try to stay inside the top 10 as best I could. As time went on, we could see that it was all working out but as you know, we went into the final day with only a narrow lead, so it stayed close the whole way through.”

What have you learned from this Dakar in particular?

“I have certainly learned a lot about myself on this rally, and obviously never to quit – never to give up. Strategy-wise, it’s kind of the same, consistency is key but even when you have a bad day you need to keep on going because anything can happen at the Dakar. Take the rough with the smooth but make sure you are in the right place and in the end it will work.”

With three winners in the team, do the egos clash at all, are you all extremely competitive?

“Oh, for sure, absolutely. They’re going to have to get a bigger door on the truck now so that I can get my head through! No, for the three of us who have had the honor to win the Dakar Rally, it’s good to have a certain amount of competition between teammates. It feels great to keep KTM’s winning streak going, that is really important to me and the other guys. I think first and foremost we are a team, but at the end of the race I want it to be me that’s holding the winner’s trophy.”

What was the pressure like on the final day?

“I never want to feel anything like that pressure ever again. I wish going into the final day I had a 10-minute lead, it would have been so much better. Pablo put up a great fight but of course he had that crash and it made my life a little easier, but I still had to make it to the finish line. Pablo crashed at 10 kilometers and after that I still had 95 kilometers to go. It certainly wasn’t an easy stage and like I said, you can never truly relax until you have crossed that line.”

And on crossing that line, how did it feel to win?

“It’s a feeling like no other. I thought after winning my first one, the second wouldn’t be so much of a big deal, but it’s not like that at all. It sounds like a cliché, but it honestly feels like a dream. I woke up the morning after the final day and I was ready for someone to come and tell me it was the first day of the race and I had to get up and get ready.”

How does it feel to do the double – World and Dakar champion, back to back?

“Wow. You know I never even thought about it. To get my first world title and then the Dakar title just months later is amazing. You get so caught up with what is coming next a lot of the time you don’t get a chance for these things to sink in. I can’t take all the credit though, rallying is truly a team sport and none of it would be possible without the KTM family I have around me. Handing KTM that 18th Dakar win is hugely important to me.”

How does it feel to have lost your hair?

“It’s extremely cold now. I can certainly feel the wind on the top of my head that’s for sure. I look in the mirror and it looks very, very different. It’s done though, and there was no way I was going to try and get out of it. When you make a bet, you have to stick to it, you have to stick to your word.”

It looked emotionally painful when you were having it done.

“It was, exactly. It’s taken years to grow my hair out like that. Sam and I started it off and other than racing dirt bikes it’s the longest relationship I’ve ever had!”

Now the celebrations have died down, how will you spend the next few weeks?

“What do you mean the celebrations have died down? There is plenty of celebrating left to do! No, I’ll spend some time at home now and one of the first things I need to do is have my wrist looked at to see how it has handled two tough weeks in Peru. The world championship will start before we know it and I want to be ready and as fit as I can be to defend my title. I’ll take some time to let all of this sink in, but I’ll soon want to get out there riding again.”